Tony Hawk Breaks Down Skateboarding Into 21 Levels of Difficulty: From Easy to Complex

Thir­ty or so Christ­mases ago, I received my first skate­board. Alas, it was also my last skate­board: not long after I got the hang of bal­anc­ing on the thing, it was run over and snapped in half by a mail truck. There went my last chance at Olympic ath­leti­cism, though I could­n’t have known it at the time: it debuted as an event at the Sum­mer Olympics just this year, and its com­pe­ti­tions are under­way even now in Tokyo. This is, in any case, a bit late for me, giv­en the rel­a­tive… matu­ri­ty of my years as against those of the aver­age Olympic skate­board­er. But then, Tony Hawk is in his fifties, and some­thing tells me he could still show those kids a thing or two.

Hawk, the most famous skate­board­er in the world, shows us 21 things in the Wired video above— specif­i­cal­ly, 21 skate­board­ing moves, each one rep­re­sen­ta­tive of a high­er dif­fi­cul­ty lev­el than the last. At lev­el one, we have the “flat-ground ollie,” which involves “using one foot to snap the tail of the board down­ward, and then you have the board sort of aim­ing up, and then slid­ing your front foot at the right time in order to bring that board up and lev­el it out in the air.”

To the untrained eye, a well-exe­cut­ed ollie projects the image of skater and board are “jump­ing” as a whole. But it can only be mas­tered by those will­ing to keep their feet on the board, rather than obey­ing the instinct to put one foot off to the side. “Peo­ple do that for years,” laments Hawk.

Lev­el ten finds Hawk on the half-pipe doing a “360 aer­i­al.” He describes the action as we watch him per­form it: “I’m going up the ramp, I’m turn­ing in the frontside direc­tion a full 360, and I’m com­ing down back­wards” — but not yet flip­ping the board while in the air, a slight­ly more advanced move. The final lev­els enter “the realm of unre­al­i­ty,” cov­er­ing the NBD (Nev­er Been Done) tricks that skaters nev­er­the­less believe pos­si­ble. For Lev­el 21 he choos­es the “1260 spin” — “three and a half rota­tions” — which he’s nev­er even seen attempt­ed. Or at least he had­n’t at the time of this video’s shoot in 2019; Mitchie Brus­co land­ed one at the X Games just two days lat­er. Even now, giv­en the seem­ing­ly infi­nite poten­tial vari­a­tions of and expan­sions on every trick, skate­board­ing is unlike­ly to have hit its phys­i­cal lim­its. Just imag­ine what the kids who suc­cess­ful­ly dodge their mail­man now will be able to pull off when they grow up.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Tony Hawk & Archi­tec­tur­al His­to­ri­an Iain Bor­den Tell the Sto­ry of How Skate­board­ing Found a New Use for Cities & Archi­tec­ture

Wern­er Her­zog Dis­cov­ers the Ecsta­sy of Skate­board­ing: “That’s Kind of My Peo­ple”

The Tony Alva Sto­ry

Ful­ly Flared

The Piano Played with 16 Increas­ing Lev­els of Com­plex­i­ty: From Easy to Very Com­plex

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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